Rhonda Gilbreath misses her son Marcus Hartsfield, and his big bear hugs, every day.
“I miss his deep and fulfilling laughs,” Gilbreath said about Hartsfield, who died in a police shooting in Oakridge about three years ago. “Marcus was always trying to make everyone’s day brighter. He had a way of making someone laugh even if they were sad.”
In October 2019, Oakridge Police Officer Steve Davidson shot Hartsfield three times after entering a shop on Rainbow Street toward the west side of the city.
Hartsfield’s family, through his estate, has filed a wrongful death lawsuit in federal court.
The lawsuit alleges Davidson, who is no longer employed by the city, didn’t announce himself, failed to attempt to talk to bystanders and shot without warning, including once after Hartsfield hit the ground.
You can read the legal complaint at the end of this article.
Hartsfield’s family also claims the officer stopped an ambulance crew and his father – a former combat medic – from “rendering aid to (Hartsfield) for a period of 15 to 20 minutes, which conduct is believed to have contributed to (his) death.”
About six weeks after Hartsfield’s death, Lane County District Attorney Patty Perlow said the shooting was a lawful use of deadly force. In her report, she said a toxicology report determined Hartsfield had methamphetamine in his system.
But toxicology reports from the Lane County Medical Examiner’s office show no sign of controlled substances.
“This is not only a wrongful death case, but a governmental cover up,” said Jennie Clark, an attorney for the family and estate.
The family is asking for around $433,000 in economic damages to cover expected Social Security benefits and $9 million in non-economic damages from the city and the officer as well as $20,000 from Perlow and the county in damages.
Oakridge City Administrator James Cleavenger said the city can’t comment on the lawsuit at this time.
Perlow also declined to comment on pending litigation but said she would be “happy to discuss it” once the case is closed.
A Lane County spokesperson said the lawsuit will be referred to the Oregon Department of Justice.
Lawsuit, DA describe incident differently
Davidson was responding to five separate 911 calls around 7:40 p.m. on Oct. 17, 2019 of a domestic disturbance and suicide in progress.
Hartsfield was in the middle of a mental episode and “cut himself with a razor blade on his arms, stomach and neck,” the lawsuit reads. Family asked for medical assistance, the complaint adds, not an officer.
According to a release from the DA’s office about the shooting, Davidson arrived at the scene and found Hartsfield struggling with three people with what the officer thought was a knife in hand.
When finding the shooting lawful, Perlow said Davidson drew his weapon, identified himself as a police officer and told Hartsfield to drop the knife and shot only after Hartsfield moved toward him with the razor up in the air.
The lawsuit, though, contends there “was no crime in progress,” and Davidson didn’t have an arrest warrant or take any steps to put Hartsfield into custody.
It also alleges Davidson fired his gun “without warning” and shot Hartsfield twice in the chest and once in the chin and says there were bystanders within the line of fire.
Hartsfield’s father arrived after the shooting, and Davidson prevented him and an ambulance crew from rendering medical aid for at least 15 minutes, the complaint reads.
The DA painted a different picture, saying Hartsfield’s father ignored commands to stay back and his mother Gilbreath and others refused to step away from Hartsfield. Davidson told the medics he didn’t have control of the scene, Perlow said, and they declined to enter.
Toxicology reports refute DA statements
Perlow also said Hartsfield had methamphetamine in his system, but the lawsuit refutes that.
Clark, an attorney for the estate and the family, provided three toxicology reports that show Hartsfield was not on meth or any other drugs.
Three reports show blood and urine tests found no controlled substances or common pharmaceuticals and no evidence of alcohol.
The lawsuit adds that witnesses saw a body camera on Davidson, but the estate and family haven’t received any footage of the incident.
“Even though he had a body camera, the police officer who shot Mr. Hartsfield did not have his body camera on before or after the shooting, even though he could have turned it on at any time,” Clark said. “The officer could have turned on his body camera, if he had nothing to hide.”
Lawsuit: City training ‘outrageously inept’
The lawsuit also criticizes the city for “an obvious lack of training and professionalism as to demonstrate a deliberate indifference by the city to the training of its police officers.”
Davidson’s conduct was egregious in dealing with a suicide attempt, the lawsuit claims, and he showed a “lack of professional assessment of the incident scene and fail(ed) to consult the on-site witnesses prior to discharging his gun.”
The complaint also describes the city’s de-escalation training as “egregiously and outrageously inept.”
It makes close to a dozen legal claims, including excessive use of force, a due process violation, negligence, wrongful death and defamation and asks for millions in damages:
$433,872 from Oakridge and Davidson to cover Hartsfield’s expected Social Security benefits for 46 years
$9 million from Oakridge and Davidson for pain and suffering and loss of life and companionship
$20,000 from Perlow for pain, suffering and mental distress
$20,000 from the county for pain caused by libelous statements
An unspecified amount in attorney fees
Gilbreath’s suffering has been great — she said a big part of her died with her son.
“He had big dreams of owning land and everyone he loved living close to each other,” she said. “He was a loving and respectful person. I am proud of the person he was — it was truly a life cut short.”
Contact city government watchdog Megan Banta at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @MeganBanta_1.
This article originally appeared on Register-Guard: Family of man killed by Oakridge officer in 2019 files lawsuit